How reading list design is influenced by power structures – input for level 6 Participation and Voice module

By | November 8, 2018

This seminar was designed at the request of the module leader. She had heard about a presentation that the Academic Liaison Librarian team had given at a RIPPLE meeting on how we work in partnership with academic colleagues, and was interested in a discussion that had taken place about how reading list design in Higher Education can marginalise voices and sections of society. So, I was asked if I could provide input to the Participation and Voice module on the BA(Hons) Development and Education of Children and Young People course on this topic. The members of the module have all completed foundation degrees in this subject and are doing a top up year to make it up to a BA, and tend to work in education-related settings whilst studying alongside their jobs.

Module aims:

  • Critically explore values and concepts such as voice, participation, social responsibilities, agency, power, governmentally, democracy and citizenship as the underpinnings for the active participation of children and young people and families in decision-making;
  • Recognise the importance of listening to the views of children, young people and families and their rights to have a voice and to be heard in matters that have a bearing on improving their lives;
  • Examine how practitioners and policymakers listen to and understand the worlds and experiences of children and young people across different services and agencies ;
  • Enable students to critically reflect on, and evaluate, participative practices with children, young people and families in their settings.

Session design

I thought it was a great opportunity to take this analysis of participation and voice and apply it to the design of the course they were undertaking themselves, as well as taking a critical look at curriculum design in Higher Education more generally. I didn’t want to make this a one-way lecture from me, so each aspect covered (represented by a slide in the presentation) involved discussion with the group about their experiences. It would have been pretty inappropriate to conduct a session on voice and then make it all about my perspective, plus this is an area I have started researching properly only recently, so I am not claiming to have all the information linked to it at all.

Key points covered

I decided to take a step by step approach to various aspects of the Higher Education landscape which influence curriculum design, and reading lists more specifically. The ones I chose to focus on were: research conferences and the people who generally present at them; the theorists chosen for core readings on programmes; citations and references; and who works in Higher Education (and why). The key points covered therefore were,

  • background theory,
  • who is marginalised?
  • how are they marginalised?
  • specific examples.
Background theory

I personalised the introduction by explaining how I had come to be more aware of the inequalities we were about to discuss, through the work of Elmborg (2012), whilst conducting my own research. Elmborg states that it isn’t enough to explain how to find and evaluate information; that the agency of the individual researcher and their background and situation needs to be acknowledged, and that the power structures inherent in information production and use should be explored and critiqued.

Who is marginalised?

I picked blog posts and articles by scholars and academics in different arenas to identify examples of how Higher Education marginalises. These are by no means exhaustive, and were used as a starting point for discussion. It was also interesting to note that much of this discourse is emerging in blog posts and on similar fora – this allowed for a critique of the traditional publishing methods of books and journal articles in academia. I used quotes directly from these sources as I believe that the voices of the authors are important.

Women (Ahmed 2012, 2013)
People of colour (Ahmed 2012, 2013)
Indigenous peoples (Kara 2017)
Disabled people (Tremain 2018)
LGBTQI+ (Hudson-Sharp and Metcalf 2016)


Make-up of panels at conferences (Ahmed 2012, 2013)
Reading lists (Ahmed 2012, 2013; Kara 2017)
Use of citations in gaining/keeping academic jobs (Tremain 2018)
Reference lists (Netolicky 2018)
Scholarly publishing and discovery (Regier 2018; Mongeon and Paul-Hus 2016)

This gives just a few examples of how marginalisation takes place. There are many more in the sources I used, so I would definitely recommend looking over them yourself. Likewise, I encouraged the students to read the original works after the session, to see if they felt I had represented them fairly, or to critique them. All of these feed into the resources used in programmes in universities and the way in which they are designed.

Key example

Here I introduced the open letter written in 2017 by students at the University of Cambridge (CambridgeFly 2017) where they detailed their needs to see the curriculum decolonised (specifically in relation to the literature course), and a response by literature academics here at York St John, outlining their approach to teaching literature in terms of decolonisation (Evans and Lawson-Welsh 2017). Then we discussed a specific module on their own course – one that they are currently studying on global approaches to education. The reading list for this has changed enormously from the list that went through validation to the one being used now and we looked at how it had been developed to ensure it was not simply portraying global views from a very narrow perspective, and how it could evolve further.


As much as I wanted this to involve discussion with the group, just inviting it didn’t seem very effective. Next time I run this, or a similar, session, I think a structured task would help with this. It could be individual or group, but could maybe involve close analysis of a couple of reading lists, with some prompts. Or the analysis of an article which claims to represent the views of a specific group, but doesn’t. The tutor with whom I worked helped with the summing up and said she wanted to see critiques of the resources used in assignments, in relation to whether the voice of the group they claimed to represent was included adequately, or whether it was someone from outwith that group just claiming to know what was required. From that point of view, I think the session met its aims.


Ahmed, S. (2012) On being included: racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham, Duke Uni Press.
Ahmed, S. (2013) Making feminist points [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 5 November 2018].
CambridgeFly (2017) Decolonising the English faculty: an open letter [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Elmborg, J. (2012) Critical information literacy: Definitions and challenges. In: Wetzel Wilkinson, C. and Bruch, C. eds. Transforming Information Literacy Programs: Intersecting Frontiers of Self, Library Culture, and Campus Community. Chicago, Association of College and Research Libraries, pp. 75-95.
Evans, A. and Lawson-Welsh, S. (2017) What’s going on? Demistifying ‘decolonising the curriculum’ [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth, Penguin.
Hudson-Sharp, N. and Metcalf, H. (2016) Inequality among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups in the UK: a review of evidence. Westminster, National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
Kara, H. (2017) Working with indigenous literature [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Mongeon, P. and Paul-Hus, A. (2016) The journal coverage of Web of Science and Scopus: a comparative analysis. Scientometrics, 106(1), pp.213-228. Post-print at [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Netolicky, D. (2018) Reference lists as sites of diversity? Citations matter [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Regier, R. (2018) The institutionalized racism of scholarly publishing [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 5 November 2018].
Tremain, S. (2018) Citation practices: more about power than you think they are [Internet]. Available from [Accessed 5 November 2018].

Reading lists and power – presentation

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